OAN’s Abril Elfi
3:12 PM – Thursday, August 31, 2023
At least 74 people have died and more than 50 were injured in a temporary housing building fire in Johannesburg, South Africa.
On Thursday, a fire broke out at a “hijacked” building, defined as a building abandoned by landlords and taken over by gangs or other groups and leased out mostly to migrants and South Africans who don’t have the means to afford other forms of housing.
One of the survivors of the tragic incident, Wiseman Mpepa, stated that he woke up from the sound of people screaming.
He told the press that he tried to escape by breaking his window but could not climb out. Reportedly, he then tried to escape from the gate but the gate was shut.
“They closed the gate,” he told the press. “After that, I had no plan. I just sat (in my room).”
According to videos from the incident posted on social media, moments after the fire broke out there were huge flames immersing from the lower floor of a building and crowds of people standing outside. Photos from the next day showed onlookers crowding around burnt out and cordoned off areas, broken glass windows, and clothes strewn around the building.
The 1:00 a.m. fire reportedly affected 141 families, with several of the victims being children. The youngest victim was a one-year-old baby.
The press stated that some residents jumped off windows and one witness claimed to have seen a person jump out of a third-floor window and land “head first” on the concrete pavement.
Another witness stated that some people threw babies out of third-story windows to others waiting below in the desperate scramble to evacuate.
Johannesburg Emergency Services Management spokesman Robert Mulaudzi talked about the incident and said he had never seen something like it.
“This is a tragedy for Johannesburg. Over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” he said.
Dozens more victims were discovered on a side road outside the apartment complex, some in body bags, some wrapped in silver sheets or blankets after the body bags ran out. They were eventually removed from the scene in pathology department vehicles.
Emergency services officials claimed that the death toll could rise as they continue to search the area.
According to City of Johannesburg Community Safety official Mgcini Tshwaku, the city government has been at odds with non-governmental organizations over illegal building occupancy. Due to the risk of fire and power outages, city officials shut down certain buildings and relocated occupants, but the organizations constantly threatened legal action and imprisonment of city officials.
The cause of the fire remains unclear but authorities at the scene gave no indication it was intentional.
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